WellBe’s January 2018 News Roundup

WellBe monthly health and wellness news roundup

Trying to stay on top of health- and wellness-related news and events can be overwhelming. It’s a lot to digest (pun intended). We saved you the trouble. Here’s what happened in January, WellBe-style.

1. ADHD Drug Use Among Women Up 344%

What: The number of women who filed a prescription for meds to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder has skyrocketed, according to a new CDC report.

The Details: Between 2003 and 2015, ADHD drug prescription rates for women aged 15 to 44 increased 344 percent, but that number was much higher among young women: 700 percent for women aged 25 to 29 (what the what?!), 560 percent for women aged 30 to 34. Adderall, Vyvanse, and Ritalin were the most commonly used ADHD drugs.

Why Does This Matter for My Health? So little is known about the safety of taking the medications in general, but especially during pregnancy, and half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, which means women may be taking the meds and not know they’re pregnant, Coleen Boyle, director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in a prepared statement. Plus, experts have questioned whether the increase in diagnoses of ADHD among children and adolescents actually matches the prevalence of the disorder, and now this study suggests the same thing might be happening with adults, The New York Times reported. Do you know someone who’s used the drugs to help them study or stay focused at work? Yea, we thought so.

The WellBe Takeaway: When we talked to integrative psychologist Dr. Ellen Vora about ADHD, she said it’s a multifactorial issue. When she treats kids, she starts by looking at gut health and food intolerances and has found that making adjustments to the diet, like adding probiotics, bone broth, and other gut healing foods makes a big difference in symptoms. With adults, she looks at the same things, but said, “I often think true-blue adult ADHD, to me, is a sleep disorder until proven otherwise. [That] can mean everything from sleep apnea to a sleep disorder where their brain does not go through the proper architecture of sleep overnight, or even to a self-imposed disorder of, you just don’t go to bed in time.” If you know someone who was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, suggest they consider whether other things are causing the problems, like Vora does.

2. CDC Director Steps Down Over Tobacco, Drug Investments

What: Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald resigned from her role after questions about financial investments in healthcare and tobacco companies.

The Details:  Before she started in July 2017, one of the nation’s top public health officials had investments in major tobacco companies and other companies that were a potential conflict of interest (including CVS Health and Quest Diagnostics), The New York Times reported. Fitzgerald divested from most of them in October, but was legally obligated to hold onto investments in cancer detection and health information technology, The Washington Post reported. Which meant she had to pledge to avoid engaging on issues like cancer and the raging opioid epidemic…as the head of the CDC.

Before her appointment to the CDC, Fitzgerald was called out for working with Coca-Cola on a child obesity initiative.

In late January, POLITICO reported that Fitzgerald purchased shares of tobacco, drug, and food companies while in office, including Merck, Humana, and Japan Tobacco. Fitzgerald said the investments were made by her portfolio manager without her knowledge. Less than a day later, she resigned.

Why Does This Matter for My Health? When a government official is appointed who came in with shady conflicts of interest that affected her ability to, you know, regulate those companies potentially harming public health, that’s a bad thing for all of us. This turmoil comes at a bad time for the CDC, with the worst flu outbreak in a decade, hurricane recovery efforts, and the opioid epidemic. 

The WellBe Takeaway: The CDC has a history of conflict of interest problems and corruption claims, so it’s good to see Fitzgerald out so promptly. At WellBe, we believe individuals who work in regulatory agencies can’t jump from or to high-paying jobs in the industries they’re meant to regulate, or invest at them. If they can, those industries know officials can be bought, buy accordingly, and this can result in millions of lives lost (we’re looking at you, Big Tobacco).

3. Study Shows Genetic Obesity Risk No Match for Healthy Diet

What: A 20-year study found that eating a nutritious diet may be the most impactful for those with a high genetic risk for obesity.

The Details: The Tulane University study followed about 14,000 people from two large studies of U.S. health professionals, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, from 1986 to 2006. They found that people with the highest genetic risk for obesity got the greatest benefit from following healthy eating habits. Specifically, a diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (ex: fish, walnuts, flax seeds) and low in trans fats (skip the frozen pizza, packaged cookies, and microwave popcorn), fried foods, and sugary drinks helped people avoid obesity and lose weight.

It might sound obvious— eating well = avoiding weight gain —but the big thing here is that a healthy diet was more protective for people who had the highest genetic propensity to gaining weight.

“Many people think their obesity is due to genes. Our study clearly indicates genes are not destiny,” senior study author Lu Qi of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane, said in a news release.

The researchers cautioned that they couldn’t conclude a cause and effect and that they didn’t factor in exercise, but one expert said the findings were encouraging because they “help dispel misconceptions that a genetic predisposition will inhibit successful weight management,” Dr. Nathalie Farpour-Lambert, president-elect of the European Association for the Study of Obesity wrote in an accompanying editorial.

Why Does This Matter for My Health? This study is a reminder that having a genetic disposition for something isn’t the final word on your health outcomes. Sound familiar? When we talked to integrative psychologist Dr. Ellen Vora about anxiety and depression, she said the same thing.

The WellBe Takeaway: We keep saying it, but food is medicine, and we’ll keep saying it. Study authors noted that a healthy diet is good for all populations, not just those with a high genetic risk, so no matter what category you fall in, eat with your long-term health in mind and your body will thank you.

4. Playground Parasite May Cause Cognitive Issues in Children

What: The parasite Toxocara may affect children’s health and intelligence, The New York Times reported. (Wait, parasites can impact the brain? Oh yea!) 

The Details: Toxocara parasites live in the intestines of cats and dogs (especially strays, who don’t get regular care) and their microscopic eggs end up in playgrounds and sandboxes via the animals’ feces. When kids play outside, the infectious particles end up on their hands. If they get ingested, the eggs hatch and the larvae are distributed through the body, possibly even going to the brain and compromising learning and cognition, the Times reported.

According to the CDC, about 5 percent of the U.S. population (16 million people) have Toxocara antibodies in their blood, meaning they’ve ingested eggs. The infection rate is disproportionally high for poor and minority populations. When diagnosed, the infection can be treated with albendazole, an anti-parasitic drug.

The signs of a toxocariasis infection are subtle (a slight fever, fatigue, abdominal pain and cough) and common to other illnesses. A CDC survey from October found that 85 percent of pediatricians only had a passing familiarity with the infection (hence they probably wouldn’t test for it)— less than half of the doctors correctly diagnosed it when given a description of symptoms.

There’s so little research into Toxocara that the NIH funding website doesn’t show any grants to study it, and experts told the Times it’s likely because of the socioeconomic group affected. 

“It is potentially causing developmental delays that are affecting quality of life, and the economic impact is far greater,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told the Times. “It could trap children in poverty.”

Why Does This Matter for My Health? A SUNY Downstate Medical Center study found that mean test scores were lower among kids who tested positive for exposure to Toxocara and a 2015 Brigham Young study found a similar association with adults. One Brigham Young researcher told the Times this could have “broad implications” in “an economy where expertise and performance…increasingly plays a role in the workforce.”

If you have a dog or cat, don’t freak out. The Times reported that pets who receive regular veterinary care rarely carry Toxocara.

The WellBe Takeaway: It frustrates us to know how little research exists and how few pediatricians test for or are familiar with something that affects the brains of millions of children— especially those living in poverty. A misdiagnosis of learning disabilities could result in a lifetime of prescription drugs and cognitive damage. If we had kids, we’d talk to their pediatricians and ask for a Toxocara test before any brain-related diagnosis.

5. One More Reason to Get Into Mindfulness

What: A new study found that mindfulness may help you become a nicer person, adding to the list of benefits for the practice.

The Details: Mindfulness has been all over the wellness world for a while now. The practice of paying attention to what’s happening in the here and now can reduce stress, lower blood sugar level, and improve focus. In a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers found that it helped people be more empathetic and nicer, Time reported.

For the study, about half of the ~100 study participants went through an audio-recorded guided meditation while the others got either no training or an attention-focused audio training. Participants then played a computer game that simulated a situation where a stranger was ostracized. Researchers observed that people who got mindfulness training showed a marked increase in empathetic behavior.

Why Does This Matter for My Health? When people witness someone being ostracized, it’s common to get distressed and sometimes that upset is displaced so we just feel negative, instead of upset for the other person. Then people turn away from the person in need, study author Daniel Berry, an assistant professor of psychology at California State University San Marcos, told Time. Mindfulness training helped study participants regulate their emotions and be present for others. We could all use more of that, right?

The WellBe Takeaway: If you haven’t started a mindfulness practice, it’s time to get on it. It could be as simple as setting aside five minutes to sit and observe your breath and the things around you (What do you smell? What do you hear?) or you could plug in to an app like Headspace.

6. This Country Got the First-Ever Minister for Loneliness

What: Social isolation is a serious problem in Britain and the country now has a government official to tackle the issue.

The Details:  According to a 2017 report, more than 9 million people in Britain (roughly 14% of the population) often or always feel lonely 😞. About 200,000 older people in the U.K. haven’t talked to a friend or relative in more than a month and the majority of people over 75 live alone. “It’s proven to be worse for health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, but it can be overcome and needn’t be a factor in older people’s lives,” Mark Robinson, the chief officer of Age UK, the country’s largest charity working with older people,  told The New York Times.

Why Does This Matter for My Health? The loneliness issue isn’t just something happening across the pond. Last year, former U.S. surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murphy wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review on why the issue needed to be addressed. He called out that loneliness can be associated “with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, and anxiety.”

The WellBe Takeaway: Back in August, we talked about how a growing number of Americans are at risk for social isolation, which may increase the risk of early death more than obesity. It’s great to see the U.K. focused on it (it was a big issue for Jo Cox, the British lawmaker who was murdered by a right-wing extremist in 2016). Will the U.S. follow suit? In the meanwhile, we’re making a list of friends and family who live alone and making plans to spend more time together.

7. Leafy Greens May Keep Your Mind Sharp

What: A new study found that daily serving of leafy green veggies may slow brain aging by 11 years. So your brain is what you eat, literally.

The Details: In a study of 960 older adults, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago researchers found that people who ate about a serving of leafy green vegetables (a half-cup of cooked spinach, kale, or collards, or one cup of raw lettuce) showed a slower rate of decline on memory tests and with thinking skills than those who rarely or never ate them. Over 10 years of follow-up, researchers observed that those who ate the most leafy greens (an average of about 1.3 servings per day) had a slower rate of decline than those who ate the least.

Why Does This Matter for My Health? The study controlled for other things that could affect memory like age, activity level, and alcohol consumption, and while their findings don’t prove leafy greens cause the slowdown in slow brain aging, the association is there, researchers said. In fact, compared to other foods linked to better brain health (beans, berries, fish, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, wine), leafy greens stand out.

Oh, and a WellBe PSA: Late last year there was an outbreak of E.coli infections related to romaine lettuce. Don’t forget to wash your greens thoroughly!

The WellBe Takeaway: The average participant’s age at the start of the study was 81, so researchers noted that their findings may not work for younger adults or people of color, but our brain function is pretty important to us, so in case it does, we’re trying to get greens in at least two meals a day.

8. UK Pledges to Lead Global Fight Against Plastic Pollution

What: British Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to eradicate avoidable plastic waste by 2042.

The Details: In a speech unveiling a new 25-year environmental agenda, May promised to extend a five-pence plastic bag charge to all retailers, to urge retailers to have packaging-free aisles in supermarkets, and to pursue a charge on single-use plastic products (think takeout containers). May also discussed sending aid money to help developing countries deal with plastic waste.

Why Does This Matter for My Health? As we talked about in our Wellness Activist Goals for the year, using less plastic is a big one, for a number of reasonsRegulations like plastic bag bans are done at a state level in the U.S., and some have passed in states like California and Hawaii and some states have passed bills making it NOT AN OPTION (Idaho, Missouri, Arizona). Because it’s a good use of time to pass bills making things that help curb pollution illegal. Sigh.

The WellBe Takeaway: We’re thinking May saw this video of a fisherman cutting open a mahi-mahi and finding a bunch of plastic inside of it. Can you imagine biting into that?! In all seriousness, we believe that if humans created the plastic pollution crisis, we can certainly also do what we can to reverse it. We’ll see if any of May’s ideas happen or work, but we’re glad she’s at least trying to do something. If you haven’t swapped using plastic bags yourself yet, we’re fans of EnviroSax’s shopping bags because they roll up tidily into our purses and can carry a lot of stuff (up to 44 pounds!).

Other news worth noting:

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